Thursday 27 January 2011

Cleaning the cooker

I am still working on the same objective here as the ‘Mushroom Ketchup’ – I am supporting Philip to ‘check in’ with me to make sure his actions match mine.  This is a key step in developing relational responsibility and one that features high on an employer’s list – the ability to work well as part of a team.  You can’t do that if you are oblivious to the actions and intentions of your team mates.

Philip is discovering that to be a competent apprentice, he needs to keep checking in with me to compare his actions with mine. 

Typically developing children will master this competency at around 3-4 years.

0.19    Philip rushes ahead

0.20    I gesture to him to wait

0.26    I gesture for him to watch me

0.28 He is still determined to go for it but references me and I look uncertain

0.33 He repairs his mistake and references me

0.37    I model lifting the metal bit off (what do you call that part of a cooker??)

0.58     He has been busy looking at the hob but realises he’s not with me and stops to check in

1.03    P dashes ahead, not checking in

1.06    I say ‘nuh uh’ and he checks in

1.12    He repairs his mistake by putting the covers back on the jets

1.23    I model what I want us to do, slowing the pace down

1.26    He copies me and then references me to check in

1.34     He starts to clean the jet cover and references me to check if this is the correct action

I swap us round so that the camera picks up his face better

1.52    I tap P and clear my throat to get his attention.  He refs me

1.59    P refs me to check in after he’s put the jet cover in his bowl

2.04    He is ploughing ahead again!  I clear my throat to get his attention

2.12    H e refs me in response to my waiting and communicative noise ‘uh!’

The dishwasher gurgles!!  It didn’t intrude at all as we were cleaning the cooker but now it sounds monstrously loud  L

2.17    He stops what he’s doing and references.  I give a gesture of approval.

2.51      He references me finally after getting absorbed (forgive the pun) in squeezing the sponge

2.57    He ‘ghosts’ getting the washing up liquid!

3.17      He references again, smells the sponge and shares his reaction to the smell – ‘stinky’

I didn’t catch this at the time – that would have been a really good moment for me to compare and contrast my reaction to the smell of the sponge.  Smell is a powerful tool for helping embed episodic memory.

3.25     P has come over to my side of the cooker with his sponge.  He references me and shares a joke about it, smiling playfully

3.43 He crosses to my side again and refs me to share the joke – now I am getting concerned that his focus on being playful will distract from our interaction so

3.46    I say ‘uh oh’ and out down my sponge

3.49    He references me and I gesture that there’s a problem

3.53        He does a small facial expression plus an incline of the head and a short communicative noise (fantastic non-verbal communication ) – I think he is encouraging me here to get back on task

3.57    I model that I am just cleaning the lower square.  He doesn’t catch on, so I say ‘nnnnnnn’

3.58    I model the lower square again

4.04    He goes in the top square and references me

4.05    I point to my top square and shake my head

4.10    He’s not getting the point, so I have to scaffold with language

4.16    He checks in again following my ‘uh oh’.  I repeat and he follows this time

4.35    He references to see what I am doing

4.39    I put the sponge in the bowl and he copies

4.46    He references again in response to my ‘uh oh’

5.01     He references to see what I am doing.  I wait and he adjusts his position so he can see me better.

In this clip, I am still providing quite a lot of scaffolding with my prosody (communicative noises), gesture and facial expression to let him know when he needs to repair a mistake.  What I am working towards is for Philip to take responsibility without me scaffolding, so that our joint actions are fluid and synchronised. 

See those bits of paper on the cupboard doors behind us?  They are all RDI reminders.  Nowadays they are mainly in the kitchen as this is my ‘RDI hub’ but at one time we had them all over the house – bathroom, living room, bedrooms.  And that reminds me of something funny. 

A couple of years ago, Philip and I had been doing some filming in the main bedroom, and the plumber came round the following day to fix the en suite shower. Well, he walked into the bedroom and took one look at the camera on its tripod at the end of the bed, then looked at me - it was one of those times when you want a big hole to open up and swallow you……….


Sunday 23 January 2011

Limit-setting: a fundamental step in building a relationship with a child

No kitchen video footage tonight – but I am hoping to do some tomorrow: we’ll be back in the kitchen undertaking the lovely job of cleaning the cooker.
In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting on limit-setting as it seems to have been cropping up for me everywhere over the past week or so….…at home, at school, amongst friends with typical children and on facebook.
On an autism support group on facebook a couple of days ago, I noticed a comment with a very long thread of responses.  When I looked at the problem under discussion, I saw that it related to what many parents call ‘challenging behaviour’.  One Mum said “My son who's 10, when in meltdown mode gets very aggressive.  Does anyone have any advice for the hitting, pinching, and biting behaviors?”
Several other Mums had offered suggestions and then even more had expressed frustration at their own difficulties with the ‘challenging behaviour’ of their children. 
In my experience, negative behaviours are usually a defensive response to a situation or a demand that a child can’t cope with (including a sensory challenge) or a negative response to being thwarted during a power struggle.  Both of these situations trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response, an instinctive response that comes from the part of the brain called the limbic system.  The difference between typical people and people with autism is that typical people can very quickly deploy the flexible thinking competencies needed to over-ride the instinctive ‘fight or flight’ response.  Typical people quickly use the pre-frontal cortex - the seat of adaptive thinking that includes appraising, reflecting, generating options for a solution to a problem, evaluating.  The pre-frontal cortex over-rides the limbic system, the ‘fight or flight’ response is dampened down and the individual is able to respond more adaptively to the challenge or frustration.
These planning, reflecting and appraising, or dynamic/flexible thinking competencies are also sometimes referred to as ‘executive functioning’ skills.  They are all impaired in autism because the child has been unable to take part in the ‘guided participation relationship’ (GPR – see previous blogs).  It is participation in the GPR that provides the framework for the development of these special thinking competencies.
If you remember the recent blog on episodic memory, you’ll remember that children with autism also fail to develop episodic memory – the special kind of memory that leads to resilience.
So, when a child with autism is presented with a new challenge that they find overwhelming, they have neither the flexible thinking competencies needed to work out how to manage the problem effectively, nor the episodic memory that allows them to ‘bounce back’ from a setback.
If you think about it that way, it’s no wonder children with autism can sometimes behave in a challenging way.  Whilst the behaviour may challenge us, it can be a huge sign of distress and possibly could be more aptly named ‘distressed behaviour’.
I didn’t engage in the facebook debate about the aggressive behaviour but I did wonder what had triggered the meltdown in the first place.  Possibilities that occurred to me were a) a challenge that was too big b) sensory overload or c) Mum had tried to set a limit but the limit-setting had not been effective and emotions had escalated.
The latter of the 3 possibilities reminds me of the difficulties we used to have with parenting Philip before we got limit-setting firmly in place.  Limit-setting was working fine with Louis, our typically developing child, but we just couldn't crack it with Philip.  What I didn't know at the time but have since learned was that his behaviour wasn't a result of him being wilfully oppositional - it was a result of him not having the thinking competencies needed to respond adaptively to everyday challenges and frustrations.

Our RDI programme didn’t really get off the starting blocks until our RDI Consultant introduced us to ‘1, 2, 3 Magic’, which is a method that can be used with kids of all abilities with a chronological age of between 2 - 14 years as long as they have a cognitive age of 2 years or over.
It separates problem behaviours into ‘stop' and 'start’ behaviours and offers different strategies for each.  I like it because it’s easy to follow and puts an immediate stop to whining, disrespect, arguing, teasing, sulking and badgering.
Also, for me, it helps me avoid turning into ‘Psycho-Mother’ - the horrible creature that (to my chagrin) I have been known to mutate into in the past….when having a temper tantrum of my own over not being able to 'control' my child L
Since we’ve been using the ‘counting’ procedure for ‘stop’ behaviours, it’s helped all of us (including us parents) regulate our emotions, helped all of us to improve our self-control and drastically reduced our family stress levels.
It’s also helped to develop consideration and co-operation in both children (it is best used when applied to all the children in the family as a consistent parenting aproach). 
An evaluation of the ‘1, 2, 3 Magic’ programme was undertaken by the UK’s Social Care Institute for Excellence in 2009, with results published in 2010.  The study concludes ‘that ‘123 Magic’ is an effective parenting programme……scores increased at the end of the programme for all domains of parenting, particularly child behaviour, boundary setting and control. The improvement in scores relating to emotion and affection were significant, although somewhat less than the change in scores in other domains of parenting.’
You can buy the ‘1, 2, 3 Magic’ book on Amazon and you don’t have to take part in any complicated or lengthy training course in order to be able to implement it – just read the book and off you go.  There is also an accompanying book for teachers, and we are currently working our way thorough it as a team at school, during our staff training sessions.
I also like Ross Greene’s ‘Collaborative Problem Solving’ approach, which he’s written about in his book ‘The Explosive Child’ and again in ‘Lost at School’.  It’s a more sophisticated approach for older children that allows them to take responsibility both for their behaviour, and for resolving conflict, as well as helping adults to figure out what's going wrong for the challenging child.
Ross Greene’s underlying philosophy is ‘Kids do well if they can’ – so if they’re not doing well, it means something is getting in their way. 

Both books look at the reasons why children present with challenging behaviour, explaining that challenging behaviour is usually a result of a) ‘lagging thinking skills’ in the child (I referred to them as executive functioning or dynamic thinking competencies – basically the same thing) and b) ‘unsolved problems’ or situations that trigger the behaviours.
Ross Greene’s solution to challenging behaviour is to use what he calls ‘proactive Plan B’, using the 3 simple steps of ‘empathy’ (adult empathises with child), ‘define the problem’ (adult states what s/he thinks has caused the conflict) and ‘invitation’ (to help solve the problem – so that it is a collaborative solution).
For a full explanation, you can watch the man himself in action on his web site, where he takes you through different versions of implementing Plan B, including what to do when it goes awry.
We were able to use collaborative problem-solving with the children once we had got firm limit-setting foundations in place with 1, 2, 3 Magic.  We still have our tricky moments, but by and large, our family dynamics are now much calmer and more respectful.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Memories of competence

We just got some feedback from our RDI Consultant on something great that happended during a pre-Christmas RDI session that Dixon was doing with Philip.

They were wrapping Christmas presents together.  Philip said (to himself as much as to Dixon) “Lets make it a square”.  When it was clear that a square was an appropriate shape to cut the wrapping paper in which to wrap the present, he followed his discovery with, “Ah….that’s a good idea”. 

This is a significant step forward, as it shows that Philip is spotlighting his competence for himself.  He’s feeling good about what he’s doing and the ideas he’s having without someone needing to tell him that he should feel good about his thoughts and actions.

It means he is using previous experiences in the here and now.

I haven’t ever heard him do that before....and I can tell you, I'm pretty chuffed with it :):)  This shows me that the work we’ve been doing on spotlighting competence and developing episodic memory has been effective.

Episodic (or personal, autobiographical memory) occurs when we remember an event along with its personal meaning, where the personal meaning of an action or event is more important than the action or event itself.  Episodic memory allows us to learn from our experiences and to anticipate and plan for future events.

In RDI, we use ‘spotlighting’ to increase the odds of this personal meaning being perceived and captured during an activity.  So in the past, when me and Philip have been doing something together, our interaction will have been punctuated by 'spotlights' from me, commenting on Philip's competence in resolving a challenge or repairing a breakdown.

This picture captured an episodic memory event for Philip.  We'd set ourselves the challenge of piling all the items on the Buckaroo donkey's head (they are usually hung on the saddle, if you're not familiar with the game).  It required a lot of fiddly balancing and precarious positioning, but we managed it and I spotlighted our joint competence by saying something like, "Oh wow - we did it!"

Both Dixon and I  have participated in hours and hours of joint activity where we have continually spotlighted Philip's competence.  Philip has now discovered naturally how to spotlight his own competence for himself because we have taken him back through all the developmental steps that he missed out on when autism derailed him from the path of typical development.

You can see from this how the guided participation relationship (GPR - see previous blogs) acts as the framework for learning.  Typically developing children spend hours in the early years (baby and toddler-hood) being the 'apprentice' to the adult's 'guide'; being supported to make their own discoveries, resolve challenges and make repairs, and having their success spotlighted by their care-givers.  This is how episodic memory develops naturally.  In RDI, because children have veered off the typical path of development, we make that natural, implicit process explicit, setting up situations (and spontaneously spotting situations in everyday interactions) that we can use to spotlight competence.

One of the reasons that children with autism have low frustration tolerance and 'meltdowns' is thet they haven't developed a bank of episodic memories to use as a reference point to help them to work out what to do.

We cope with setbacks and challenges and learn from mistakes by drawing on our episodic memory of experiences that are ‘similar but different’ to the current situation, to help us decide what to do. Research shows that this special kind of memory is impaired in autism.

In RDI, we use a range of activities that incorporate small challenges, which the child can repair or resolve.  We can then subtly highlight the child’s competence in managing these challenges. This highlighting helps the development of episodic memory, which provides a reference point in future when presented with similar challenges….promoting the ability to learn from mistakes, and to develop resilience and self esteem.

Philip has now got to the stage where he has been able to internalise the spotlighting we have been doing for him.  This means his resilience is improving and I have to tell you that whilst I am writing this, I am shedding a small tear of joy at this wonderful achievement.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Looking at things from a different perspective

Assignment completed and despatched. 

Now, for this next video, I’m going to be a bit naughty and take a short diversion into the living room, so that you can share one of the adventures we had there.  Actually I’m writing this in the kitchen (as I make the tea) so technically it is coming from the kitchen ;-)
Remember the video clip about joint attention?  Joint attention is one of the pivotal milestones in child development.  Joint attention is about using someone else’s response to an object to inform your own decision-making about what to do.
In the previous clip, the adults had a frightened response to a robot.  Both the typically developing child and the Downs Syndrome child responded to the adults’ expression of fear.  You may recall that the child with Downs Syndrome went so far as to bash the robot – wasn’t he great?  And of course, the child with autism was oblivious to the reactions of the adults to the scary robot.
In RDI, once joint attention is in place, we can go on to further develop perspective-taking.  This is what I am doing in the clip that accompanies this blog.  We want our kids to know that things can sometimes be different when we look at them from a different perspective.  Isn’t that a key competency that we all need in life?  It’s something that helps us to generate a series of options for how to respond to a problem.  If there was only one way to do something because there was only one way to look at the problem, we’d be in trouble for sure!
We start off by working on this literally – so looking at pictures that look like one thing, but when you look again, can look like something different, as in the duck/rabbit picture below.

I don’t do very well with referencing in this clip – although I do reference Philip myself, I forget to pause at relevant points in the interaction so that he can reference me.  In previous blog footage, you’ve seen Philip reference me for approval (when he has taken an action) or for information (when he is unsure about something).  Here, I could have made more of the referencing opportunities so that he could have shared his reactions to what was happening.  It is through sharing reactions with one another that we connect emotionally – one of the payoffs from social interaction.
Hopefully you’ll see what I mean about making more of the referencing opportunities when you read the commentary to the footage, which, hallelujah, is now underneath the footage (I am getting steadily more proficient at blogging). You can now read the commentary and pause the clip at the appropriate time code if you need to, with all the information in the same place.

In the first part if the clip, we are looking at an optical illusion of a bunch of flowers, which also contains hidden profiles.  Neither of us can see anything but flowers to begin with and we share our thoughts on this. 

At 1.25, I see the first profile and point it out to P, who says 'ah!'

Then I see the second profile, point it out to P and he smiles.

P finds the son's profile @ 1.58, and smiles.

In the next picture, P sees two ladies playing chess whilst I see one lady looking in the mirror. 

This is a copy of the picture that we are looking at:

I reiterate that we both saw different things and there is something else in the picture. 

I hold it at a distance and ask P if he can see anything else. 

He sees 'some kind of face', which then takes shape as a skeleton as he looks more intently.

At 2.55 I share that what P thought were chess pieces and I thought were perfumes, are teeth, when the picture is viewed so that the skull can be seen (I hold the book away from us).

When I was pondering during the flowers illusion about where the profiles were, I got lost in the illusion.  I should have shared with Philip my facial expression of confusion.  This would have kept the focus on the collaboration of trying to work it out & getting stuck together.

I was having a conversation that enabled me to share my perspectives, thoughts, ideas & negotiations but I needed to make sure the non-verbal communication was rich in information too.

Note to self -  don’t get carried away with the goal (the activity – here it was finding the illusions), rather than the goal beneath the goal (the interpersonal engagement that leads to flexible thinking).

Right, ironing beckons.............

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Guided participation part 2

Tough night tonight.......not a smidgin (sp? or is it smidgeon?) of my job list done.  The best laid plans and all that.......

Will have to duck out for a few days now in order to concentrate on my family and an impending assignment deadline.  Here is GPR part 2, and a brief introduction to our lovely school....follow the link to find out more :)

The clip in this blogpost (at 1.52 to 5.56 minutes) shows a typical toddler taking part in the guided participation relationship (GPR) with her mother and contrasts this with footage of a toddler with autism, who is unable to take part in the GPR.   

(With thanks to Brendan from Learning Together for this great clip)

What's significant in the clips of these two toddlers is the amount of referencing that is going on with the first toddler - checking back in with Mum when she successfully places a brick;  sharing her emotion about her own competence in placing the brick (she does a delightful little chuckle) and using Mum as her 'guide' when she misses a brick (Mum draws her attention to it and she responds by noticing the brick and placing it on top of the tower).
Compare this to the toddler in the nappy - this toddler is not referencing at all....his Mum might as well not be there. When the tower tumbles, he becomes very distressed and is unable to use Mum to help regulate himself (note how well the toddler in the first clip recovered when the tower tumbled, simply echoing Dad's 'Uh oh!').
In the education system, there are children who have taken part in the GPR and have developed the foundations of flexible thinking.  These kids are able (mostly) to make and maintain friendships and relationships, to exercise a good measure of independence, to manage uncertainty and change (at an age appropriate level).  These are kids who have developed good emotional intelligence, executive functioning and emotional resilience via their participation in the GPR.   
Then there are children with autism, who have been unable to take part in the GPR with all the consequent challenges this brings: lack of flexibility, low resilience, poor executive functioning, poor emotional intelligence.
Our education system expects them to go into the same environment as their neuro-typical peers (hugely dynamic, ever-changing and full of uncertainty) and to be able to cope with the curve balls it throws them…………………I think you can understand why me and Dixon decided to set up our own school.
Bright Futures is not ‘an RDI school’, but we do use some of the principles that underpin RDI.  For example, our teaching staff use the guided participation relationship to help children become more flexible thinkers.
Happy browsing - more soon.

Why we need guided participation in autism education

School. Securing an appropriate placement for their child is a tricky and traumatic process for most families of a child with autism. As you will have gathered from my last post, I feel that most of the autism education provision available today in this country leaves a lot to be desired. I feel that that most schools, though well-meaning, still just compensate for, or ‘work round’ the difficulties at the heart of autism, instead of addressing them. There are some ‘good’ schools if all you are after is a placement focusing on academics, self care and ‘social skills’ (responses learned by rote) without fostering social and emotional development and flexible thinking.

Non-autistic children develop flexible thinking and social and emotional competence as part of the special relationship that takes place with their primary caregivers in the early years. In most cases, the primary caregivers are parents.

The first clip accompanying this blogpost shows the child development milestone of ‘joint attention’.

(How cool is that - techno virgin manages to embed video in body of text)

Children with autism fail to engage in joint attention - a key developmental milestone that is a prerequisite for perspective-taking. Joint attention involves the child looking at an external object (here, the object is a toy) and then looking to the partner to share their reaction to the toy. Here, the emotion shared is joy - both the neuro-typical child and the child with Downs smile at the adult, a non-verbal “oh wow…isn’t that a cool toy?”  The child with autism doesn’t engage in joint attention and isn’t interested in the adult’s response to or feelings about the toy.
Joint attention is one of the first steps in being able to borrow another’s perspective to inform decision-making.  As children, learning about the world, we reference the adult’s emotional reactions to stimuli to determine safety and value.
It is well documented that in autism, joint attention fails to develop.  Children do not learn how to borrow someone else’s perspective to help them make decisions.  The failure to develop joint attention is part of the atypical path of development that children with autism veer onto when they are tipped over into the autistic spectrum.    This atypical developmental pathway results in children having severe and pervasive difficulties managing uncertainty and change. 
I sometimes have trouble with that myself (but it is intermittent rather than chronic).  I’m sure most of us can identify with the feelings of anxiety that result from being faced with uncertainty or change.
As ‘neuro-typical’ (non-autistic) people, however, we have developed the thinking competencies that allow us, for the most part, to have a bash at coping with uncertainty and change.  Usually most of us are successful most of the time in managing uncertainties whether large or small. 
This includes the myriads of small uncertainties and changes that happen every day.  For children with autism, the smallest change or uncertainty, such as a bus being late or having to take a detour, can trigger an extreme negative response, sometimes referred to by parents as a ‘meltdown’.  Children with autism learn to avoid change or uncertainty – an instinctive survival response when a challenge is too great. 
Human communication is full of uncertainty – sometimes changing from moment to moment, so it’s no wonder that social interaction is such a challenge for people with autism.  But it doesn’t have to be like that.  We know that neuro-typical kids learn how to interact socially and think flexibly (and therefore behave adaptively) during the many hours of playful fun they have with their caregivers in the early years. 
Barbara Rogoff, a Professor of Psychology at Santa Cruz University, coined the term ‘guided participation relationship’ to describe this special relationship between child and caregiver that enables the child to collaborate in a learning relationship with close adults which is ‘carried out day after day, without much deliberation or conscious awareness.  Children participate alongside family and community members in authentic activities as apprentices, actively seeking to appropriate meaning and expertise from adult guides who provide opportunities for the apprentice to safely encounter cognitive challenges.’
During the research period that eventually led to the development of RDI, Dr Gutstein studied many families of children with autism and concluded that children with autism are unable to take part in the GPR.  Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) allows parents and their children to have another go at the GPR.    The child is able to master the developmental milestones such as joint attention that they missed first time round, enabling them ultimately to take different perspectives and to think more flexibly.
What I am doing with Philip in the 2 footage clips accompanying my previous blogposts is using the GPR to work on his flexibility.  Philip is the ‘apprentice’ to my ‘mentor’.
Part 2 – more on guided participation, follows shortly.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Commentary and footage of ketchup part deux

Oh dear, the Side-Flanders light didn't make too much difference!!

Ok, what I am doing in this clip is making sure that P is keeping his actions in synchrony with me.  He has to reference me for information and/or approval to make sure our interaction is on track and to modify his actions if not.

0.07  P checks in, I do thumbs up
0.19  P references again
0.21  I point to the spoon as he goes to pick up a mushroom whilst referencing again to see if we are on track
0.23 I draw his attention to the spoon, he corrects his actions
0.26  He checks in again for approval re mushrooms.  I agree
0.30  He checks in to see if we are chopping mushrooms in the same way as yesterday.  I gesture that I haven't got a mushroom - he passes the box over.
0.35  He refs again re removing the stalk
0.36  I shake my head and model a different way of chopping
0.38  P refs this and copies me
1.20  P responds to my wondering about whether it's enough mushrooms with a great reference accompanied by both facial expression and prosody.  I agree.
1.25  P begins to put mushrooms on the pizza.  I make a noise and he refs.
1.28  He references me again as he explains what he is doing.
1.30  Another reference
1.31 Reference and facial expression
1.33  Great facial expression of "oh, I dunno!"
1.34  Another reference
I remind P about frying the mushrooms first
1.46  P is being playful by putting his mushrooms on a pan lid that's on the stove (where the frying pan should be).  I respond with an 'oh no!' mock indignation
1.48  He refs to see what I think of this
1.58  I make a joke about P starting a new fashion
2.00 P refs again

Mushroom ketchup part deux

Let there be light!!  We went to the supermarket earlier for a new halogen light bulb but they had run out.  Side-Flanders to the rescue!!  We have two immediate neighbours affectionately known (in secret family-speak) as Side-Flanders and Back-Flanders.  No light bulb available but our kind neighbour lent me a proper workman’s lamp, which I suspended from the kitchen ceiling.

Today we used the mushroom ketchup that we prepared yesterday as the base for our pizzas.  Philip follows a gluten and casein free diet, so no cheese L, but the pizzas turned out looking yummy nonetheless.  Unexpectedly, he suggested we also put sliced tomatoes on the pizza… he must be coming out of his anti-tomato phase.  This is one of the great things about including your kids in cooking – they become motivated to make suggestions and try new things.

We are working on the same objective as yesterday – for Philip to remain in synchrony with me, by referencing me for information or approval.  He does this several times in the video clip.

If you think about what needs to be in place to have a truly reciprocal conversation and to work as part of a team, you can see why this sort of ‘checking in’ referencing is needed.  You need to be interested in what the other person is doing, motivated to work towards a common goal, and mindful of the actions of the other person, so that you can alter your own actions if it looks like the interaction/joint task is going off track.

Dr Steve Gutstein, who developed RDI, coined the term ‘dynamic intelligence’ to describe the type of thinking that ‘provides the tools to successfully solve complicated problems, prioritise multiple demands, carry on meaningful relationships and achieve long-term goals’ (The RDI Book, 2009).

We use dynamic thinking about 80% of the time – our world is dynamic, constantly changing.  A summary of the top 10 employability competencies showed what employers value most highly in their staff:

  1. Problem solving
  2. Flexibility
  3. Teamwork
  4. Relationship building
  5. Analysis and appraisal
  6. Perspective-taking
  7. Self awareness
  8. Ongoing growth and development
  9. Management of uncertainty
  10. Creativity and innovation.

All of these are dynamic thinking competencies and all of them are impaired in autism.

I want my son to be able to secure and hold down a meaningful job that he can enjoy.  He isn’t going to be able to do that if me and his Dad don’t help him to develop some of the above competencies….so you can see why I am working with him on some of the things that need to be in place in order to be a good team player.

I will just interrupt myself at this point to tell you that a great title for my blog has just popped into my head – ‘Food for Thought’.  I quite surprised myself there – I must be getting into the swing of this blogging malarkey.  I’m keeping not-Nigella and not-Jamie as well though as I’m very fond of them.

Now just to end the point I have been making about helping children with autism to develop dynamic intelligence, I’m going to quote from another great book, ‘Learning as we Grow’ (Beurkens, Roon & Kowalczyk, 2009). The chapter on ‘remediation and compensation’ says, ‘If a child is diagnosed with a reading disability, we typically apply remediation approaches to help them to read.  At various points, we may use compensations, such as books on tape, to support them.  However, our goal is to remediate or correct the problem that is preventing them from reading, so that they can become functional readers.  In my professional experience, I have yet to come across a situation where adults believe that for an 8 year old child who is not yet reading, we should just compensate for that and give them books on tape for the rest of their lives!  Remedial efforts are undertaken to get to the root of the problem and overcome the issues that are preventing successful reading.’

Compensations and accommodations have their place – they are vital supports whilst a pupil is working on developing flexibility.  However, we do children no favours if we are ‘working around’ their difficulties and applying strategies that make them fit more appropriately into the box of our educational system instead of working directly on the difficulties – which would lead to greater independence and autonomy.

Ah, education and school!  Now therein lies another story……..coming soon.

Mushroom ketchup footage and commentary

In this clip my objective is to set up our interaction so that P checks in with me (references) to make sure that his actions are synchronised with mine, and takes corrective action if they aren't. Here is where he checks in:
0.15 secs; 0.26 secs; 0.36 secs;
0.40 secs
0.58 secs
As you can see, we need some new light bulbs!
We are using the intervention Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) to help P develop flexible, adaptive thinking, addressing the rigidity that is at the heart of autism.

Mushroom ketchup

Chopping mushrooms, frying and mixing with tinned tomatoes to make a ‘ketchup’ that we can use as a base for our soup today and the base for pizzas tomorrow.

Philip is ‘not-Jamie’ and I am ‘not-Nigella’……..welcome to our kitchen and the start of many adventures in cooking and remediating autism.

I will be putting a clip on the next blogpost of us making the ketchup – sorry the light is so poor :(  We ran out of bulbs and you can see in the clip that I have brought the kids’ light up globe into the kitchen in a vain attempt to shed more light on the proceedings……failing miserably!!

Philip has autism and we have been using the autism intervention ‘Relationship Development Intervention’ (RDI) for the past 4 years to help him to develop more flexible, adaptive thinking…..remediating the rigid thinking that is at the heart of autism (and a good many other developmental delays).

RDI uses interpersonal engagement as the vehicle to work on the core difficulties in autism.

We have been using RDI for the last 4 year – sort of off and on, so it’s not been a continuous 4 years.  We’ve had the usual saga of difficulties with educational placements and SEN tribunals that beset most families of children with autism. We have just had the ruling from our 4th tribunal (in our favour…hurray!!) – so are kinda SEN tribunal veterans.

Our RDI programme has also been interrupted by cancer – twice – we were both diagnosed within a year of each other but thankfully we have both had the all clear, subject to ongoing monitoring.

It was when Dixon (my husband) got stomach cancer that RDI finally fell into place for me.  I was so frightened by what might happen if Dixon didn’t respond to the chemo that one day when he was in hospital I just determined to go for it with RDI….at least that was something that I could try to exercise some control over.  Something clicked into place and although we were just changing beds and sorting washing, I found Philip kept wanting to do more with me, which was a real turn-around.

That’s the thing with children who have autism – they find social communication so difficult that they often avoid it…….who can blame them?  I too avoid things that are difficult for me.

Philip doesn’t avoid doing things with me now – thanks to RDI, he not only enjoys it, but his social competence is improving, and along with it his own self-confidence and self-esteem.  In an 18 month period of measuring the severity of Philip’s autism, his ADOS score went from 19 out of 22 (very high), to 12.  In some ways, we didn’t really need the measure, as our family quality of life had improved immeasurably……but being able to show the change was useful at a couple of tribunals where we made the case for RDI to be part of Philip’s educational provision.

We still have a long way to go with remediation….but at least we are going in the right direction. 

The objective I am working on at the moment with Philip focuses on him taking responsibility to make sure his actions match mine.  This means that he has to shift his focus from what he’s doing to what I’m doing and correct what he is doing if it’s not in synchrony with me.

We do all that without me ‘directing’ him or telling him what to do.  He has to want to stay in synchrony with me – that is one of the cornerstones of RDI – developing the intrinsic motivation within the child to want to be in a truly reciprocal relationship, and to take his share of the responsibility for ensuring the interaction is on track.

So it’s not really about the mushroom ketchup – it’s about the relationship……the ‘goal beneath the goal’.